Jazz – A study of personality and style
By many, jazz as a music genre is considered one of America’s original art forms. Originating from the African-American communities in New Orleans as a branch of the blues in the late 19th century, jazz became a movement of vivid expressions through music. These musical manifestations cover an emotional spectrum from happy swinging moods by the likes Benny Goodman to lingering ballads and painful beauty by someone like Chet Baker. Their hard work and passion (often paired with a decent portion of raw talent) made them professionals, yet in their own eyes they were often closer to poets. Their ability to balance these contrasting skills made the public love them and there is no doubt jazz has created a good number of legends. This journal seeks to highlight some individuals considered legends drawing on a string of mostly black and white photos from the 1920-1970s jazz era, focusing not only on the music but also on their dress sense which created a highly relevant style which has inspired Baltzar.
One of the most famous musicians and jazz influencers of all time is Louis Armstrong. During his long lasting career spanning more than half a century, he turned the trumpet into a prominent solo instrument and pioneered ‘scat’ singing. His career brought him a number of honours – all of which were achieved wearing garments that would leave a sartorial legacy.
Louis Armstrong’s clothing would go through many changes during the years. In the 20s and 30s, before the lounge suit was acceptable for stage wear, dinner suits were the dominant dress code. He preferred double breasted and shirts with turned-down collars and small elegant bow ties. Occasionally he wore single breasted lounge suits but then always with a matching waistcoat, a sartorial addition which we seem to have left behind us.
The first picture is an early example of his affection for double breasted suits, wearing a heavy woollen birds-eye with a printed tie. The peak lapels have an almost horizontal angle which are well balanced by the medium width and double button holes. To sum it up, Louis Armstrong was always impeccably well dressed in a perfectly classic sense. With well-shaped jackets, visible shirt cuff and tightly knotted ties he might not have invited the wheel, but he sure knew how to spin it!
Bing Crosby, a famous jazz singer and actor from the same era, was another classically well-dressed man – however, he more often mixed up the ‘rules’. In the picture above he is wearing a thick wool jacket and notch lapels with a low gorge, with his soft-collared shirt sitting nonchalantly half outside the lapels; perhaps the best detail is his inward facing wrist watch.
Pianist and singer Nat King Cole is a man famous for a number of things. He recorded some 150 songs for Capital Records that made the Billboard and he was the first black person to host a TV show. He was also an impeccable casual dresser. Where his evening and loungewear did not manage to stand out from this period, his casual wear certainly did! As seen in the picture above, he works with just two colours: cream and blue. The unlined cream jacket with patch- but no breast pocket, together with the blue-on-blue button-down shirt and a navy trouser, sock and shoe combination is certainly a modern and minimalistic sartorial home-run; the blue suede provides just enough textural contrast to make it blend well. The second picture shows us how less is more with a lush and of the time typical wool boucle polo in light peach(!) worn with a closed top button and a deliberate smile.
1963 saw Miles Davis wearing this minimalist seamless bespoke jacket. Just like Nat King Cole’s, this jacket sports no breast pocket, nor does it have any shoulder seams or front darts, meaning that a highly skilled tailor had to cut and craft the jacket to Davis’ proportions. The black-and-white diagonal check is strong, yet subtle, and worn with a club collar shirt and black tie.
Baltzar also raises a glass of appreciation for his bracelet chain watch. A rare sight and an incredibly difficult watch to pull of, yet definitely a stylistic gem when done right; a sign of a true sartorial legend.
Cool and modal jazz movements
The modal jazz movement includes perhaps the biggest names so far in jazz history and there are several reasons why. The idea of using musical modes with harmony (introduced by George Russell) rather than traditional chord progressions allowed the artists to experiment and develop their own styles. One of these was the so called ”cool jazz” named for its slowed down tempo and softer and lighter tone. Musicians like Miles Davis, Bill Evans and Chet Baker embraced the new sounds and moods they could make and this created a new jazz scene. This was also during the time that jazz became more commercial and the gigs turned more spectacular providing the artists with more of a star aura (in which appearance and fashion naturally came to play a bigger role). All of a sudden the jazz scene peaked and everyone looked to their idols for sartorial inspiration.
One such idol was music genius and stylish pianist, Bill Evans (also the first picture). He dressed simply but always elegantly and had a penchant for textures and patterns. The picture shows evidence of just that, dressed in a wide herringbone tweed paired with a puppy-tooth button-down and his trademark square glasses that framed his emotionally pained face. He often completed his look with slicked hair and a dangling cigarette in the corner of his mouth.
Miles Davis is considered one of the most influential figures in 20th century music; he was constantly in the forefront when it came to musical shifts and changes, as well as sartorial developments. He worked with all the big names in the industry (many mentioned above) and released the most famous jazz record to date – Kind of Blue (1959) a quadruple platinum selling album. From a sartorial perspective, his 50s and 60s Ivy colligate style is the one that stands out for being the most influential and timeless.
His button-downs with a heavy collar roll influenced a global teenage population who saw pictures of him in magazines and on album covers. It made ‘Americana’ a sensation in Japan, and drove all the cool-cats in London to buy the same green BD shirt he wore on the cover of Milestones (1958), including a young Charlie Watts. He mainly wore flat front trousers, but is pictured here with high-waisted double pleated khakis.
On stage in the 1950s and 1960s, Miles Davis mainly performed in smart Ivy league suits with lapels narrower than ever previously seen, soft shoulders and patch pockets. The trousers lost their pleats and became more fitted. The picture to the right shows him in a light double breasted pinstripe suit with a rare 2×1 closing. To match the low number of buttons, the cuffs only have one button each. Note the piping on the large patch pockets that together with the buttons makes this otherwise formal double breasted suit a more casual look, a design feature commonly used in today’s fashion.
In Newport in 1958 Miles is spotted wearing this blue-and-white seersucker jacket over a thick, short sleeved yellow casual shirt with a mandarin collar and double chest pockets.
The yellow shirt is an interesting and very ‘ivy-esque’ substitute in colour for the classic white and blue button-downs. The jacket shows the trend for the slimmer lapels of the time and his tailor made just one button hole per cuff and omitted the chest pocket – all of which makes the jacket a true casual piece. The picture also shows an early indication of Miles Davis’s growing admiration for big bug-eyed sunglasses which became a trademark throughout his career.
Chet Baker, the ‘James Dean of Jazz’, was as mythical as he was talented and his musical intelligence while playing his trumpet was second to none; and he also had a distinctive singing voice, a voice characterised by its feminine and whispery timbre. He was a heavy drug user, making him appear to age prematurely; and although he did not care for clothes, he always managed to look incredibly cool in his approach to casual attire, until his early death at the age of 58.
Chet Baker had an innocent, almost fragile look, with a square jaw, empty eyes and hair in a well-slicked pompadour often with a loose wave falling down in his face. One night at the Boston jazz club Storyville, he bumped into Ivy League clothier Charlie Davidson, the owner of The Andover Shop, who got Chet into three buttoned-rolled-two jackets with natural shoulders, knitted T-shirts and polos, button-downs and rep ties. He might have perfected the look, but he could not have cared less – for him it was the music that mattered.
The three pictures show off Chet Baker’s early Ivy look influences. In the top picture he wears a white cable-knit sweater with a deep V-neck with three cables going down the front and a raglan sleeve. He wears it over what appears to be a one-piece collar polo shirt in a jersey cotton fabric. In the bottom left he wears the quintessential 50s white T-shirt, tucked into high-waisted black trousers. His rectangular watch is a timeless piece in increasingly high demand today. His haircut is very much part of this outfit (and of course, so is the brass trumpet). Last but not least, a prime example of Ivy League styling is the photo (to the right) taken in Italy in 1962 of Chet Baker in a beige three-roll-two jacket with notch lapels and tucked-in flap pockets. Noticeable is the gorge line where the angle of the collar and the lapel is almost horizontal. He pairs it with a traditional white shirt and dark tie, dark full-cut trousers and black shoes.
Baltzar has hopefully managed to shed some light on our historic sartorial icons who have long-since passed away, but whose legacy still breathes fresh today. There is a reason why timeless pieces stay timeless, like the button-down shirt or the black Oxford shoe; or why certain pieces always seem to re-surface, like the one piece collar and raglan shoulder. Just like any art form really, the same can be said for the jazz music created during this era. So remember to pay tribute to these legends by listening to Some Kind of Blue next time you get dressed whether it’s with your high-waisted pleated trousers or a specially considered dinner suit.